NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California

Exploring Plumas National Forest

Plumas National Forest consists of 1,146,000 acres in the northern reaches of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was established as a National Forest in 1905. To the west lies Lake Oroville; the eastern border touches Hwy. 395 and the Nevada state line. Reno, NV lies to the southeast and Interstate 80 runs south of it as well. It borders two other national forests; Lassen to the northwest and Tahoe to the southeast. Mt. Lassen is 40 miles to the north. If you drive Hwy. 70 northeast from Sacramento you will bisect the forest. We like to think of the village of Quincy as the "capital" of Plumas National Forest. One of the best things about this area relates to water. The Middle Fork of the Feather River runs thru it, and mountain lakes abound.

A Brief History

The area was originally inhabited by the Mountain and Knokow Maidu Indians. The Spanish didn't venture far into this territory, but the Hudson Bay Trading Company was known to have a presence in the area in the 1830's. The gold rush changed everything, and miners and their support staff began settling in the area in the 1850's. One of the key figures of this time was an African American mountain man named James Beckwourth, who discovered the pass through the Sierra's in 1851. There is a town named after him, which is only fitting.

The Feather River

The Feather River is the cornerstone of this region and the road that follows the north fork it for quite a ways has been named a National Forest Scenic Byway. Mere mortals simply call it Hwy. 70. It runs from Lake Oroville to the west through the Feather River Canyon and the Sierra Valley to the western edge of the Great Basin and the village of Beckwourth (the first test- named for whom?). Or rather, the rivers runs the other way but the road this way- got it? Anyway, the river was one of the first to be designated a "Wild & Scenic River." (Someday, be sure to venture a little farther east and visit Great Basin National Park; we were there the day it opened as Great Basin National Monument). As one drives northeast on Hwy. 70 along the north fork you will encounter the East Fork of the North Fork. This is a great time to teach your kid (or husband) how to spell fork.

Hwy. 70 is a low elevation road and thus is open year-round. For 130 miles it passes dozens of waterfalls and is home to hikers, fishermen, swimmers, kayakers and the occasional gold miner.

Buck's Lake Wilderness

This 20,000 acre jewel is here for the hiker, backpacker or horseman and like all designated wilderness areas features virtually nothing in the way of amenities. It has been left to mature as nature intended. Unlike some wilderness areas, this one does not require a wilderness permit but does require a fire permit. Elevations range from 2,000 feet in the Feather River Canyon to just over 7,000 feet at Spanish Peak. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the area as well, for about 75 miles.

What To Do and How to Do It

As is our wont, we will highlight key destinations and then divide the forest into road trips. Hwy. 70 is an obvious one. But we will also focus on lesser roads, including some mostly unpaved forest service roads. The latter are classified by the type of vehicle that a road is suitable for. "Primary" forest service roads are marked with a sort of oblong sign and are suitable for passenger cars. "Secondary" roads are marked with a horizontal road sign with a numbering scheme like 23N37. These are generally suitable for passenger cars as well, but are probably not as well maintained and you probably will encounter ruts, rocks and some slippery sections. Vertical signs with a numbering scheme similar to that of the aforementioned secondary roads are not suitable for passenger vehicles. Check your owners manual before venturing onto these roads and make sure it says something like SUV, Jeep, pick-up truck or tank. If you are traveling these roads, carry a shovel, hatchet or saw, extra fuel, map and compass, and food and other logical items needed in the event of a breakdown. A small chainsaw is a handy item for harvesting firewood and dealing with a downed tree blocking the road. It happens.

The Destinations

There are a few destinations that are kind of stand-alone, meaning that they don't lend themselves to an extended road trip; you just drive there, camp, fish and drive somewhere else. Those include:

Little Grass Valley Reservoir- A pretty mountain lake at just over 5,000 feet with lakeside camping, boating and fishing for rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon. It has 1,615 surface acres and 16 miles of shoreline. It is appropriate for small boats and also offers swimming, hiking, riding and backpacking, with the Pacific Crest Trail nearby. There are 8 developed campgrounds offering a total of 320 sites for tents or RV's to 30 feet. The nearest city is Oroville. Click the link for more info.

Sly Creek Reservoir- Close to Little Grass Valley Reservoir (about 15 miles) but smaller with 562 surface acres and at a lower elevation, 3,530 feet. Good for small boats with fishing for rainbow trout. There are two campgrounds with a total of 53 sites. Click the link for more info.

Antelope Lake*- located in the northeastern corner of the forest it sits at 5,000 feet with 930 surface acres and 15 miles of wooded shoreline. There are 2 forest service campgrounds on the north end of the lake with a total of 157 sites and another campground at the southern end with 38 sites. Click the link for more info.

Round Valley Lake/ Reservoir- a day use opportunity to catch warm water species like bass, bluegill and catfish.

Plumas National Forest Road Trips

There are two "major" roads running through this area, Hwy. 70 and Hwy. 89. We have provided links below to write-ups on both of those roads with details about where to camp and what to do. Many of the campgrounds are of the forest service variety but near the eastern end of Hwy. 70 sits Plumas Eureka State Park.

Plumas National Forest Road Trips

Hwy. 70- Oroville to Plumas Eureka State Park

Hwy. 89- Truckee to Lake Almanor